Battling the Ash Wednesday bushfires that swept across the south-west in 1983 as a young volunteer firefighter left an impression on Brendan Ryan.
He has turned his memories of those deadly fires that burnt around his family's dairy farm at Panmure into a new memoir.
Walk like a Cow, which was released just before Christmas, also recounts Mr Ryan's footy days playing in the now defunct Mount Noorat Football League.
The Geelong English secondary teacher, who still has family in Warrnambool, said he had been writing poetry about growing up on the family dairy farm for quite a few years.
In the late 2000s, Ryan starting to write essays which explored his family history - his father growing up near Toolong and his mother in Warrnambool - many of which have been published in literary journals over the past 15 years. They form the basis for his memoir.
"It's really my upbringing on the farming the 60s, 70s and parts of the 80s and then moving away from the farm, moving to Melbourne and then looking back at the country from that urban perspective," he said.
"A lot of country people move to the city and never look back. I was always one of those ones who moved to the city and kept looking back, but I didn't want to be a farmer." The memoir covers his life up until about the year 2000 when he published his first poetry book, Why I'm not a Farmer.
Ryan was just 19 and the secretary of the Panmure Fire Brigade when the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires broke out. "Because they occurred right around Panmure and Laang, and all those areas, we were fighting it all day and night. We were there at the start," he said. "There was a fire spotter on Mount Warrnambool. They saw the smoke near Cudgee and let us know.
"We started fighting it at Cudgee, and then it just got away from us and then our fire truck got damaged."
Ryan then returned to the family farm to help save the cows and house. "We moved the cows away from where the fire was coming. We saved our house. We weren't so bad as other people," he said. But they did lose a lot of fencing, and over the next year many people chipped in to help rebuild it.
After saving what they could of their property, Ryan and his dad, who was then the captain of the Panmure brigade, spent the rest of the day and much of the night fighting the fire elsewhere.
"I went back onto a few other trucks that night. I don't think I got to bed until 2am or 3am and my father stayed out all night," he said.
"We were mopping up for about three weeks I remember. It was just ongoing, lots of small fires and peat fires."
The memoir also contains a number of poems from his previous published collections.
Once you see a major bushfire come at you, you never forget it. Every time there's a major fire, it does bring it all back to you. You never forget the smell.Brendan Ryan
"With the chapter on the Ash Wednesday bushfires, there's a poem called Morning After which is set on the morning after the fires, standing in a paddock with my father trying to understand what was happening. Everything was quiet, everything was burnt. No birds and dead cows all around you," he said. "Once you see a major bushfire come at you, you never forget it.
"Every time there's a major fire, it does bring it all back to you. You never forget the smell. And this is the sad thing for everyone who goes through bushfires in Australia - regardless of whether you get out of it lightly by not losing a house, or property or people, you've always got that smell and the fear."
Other chapters recall his time playing for Panmure in the Mount Noorat Football League that cease in the 1990s as the smaller towns in the region began to shrink.
The book talks about each of the clubs. "My father used to play for Garvoc in the 1950s. There's not much there now," he said.
The book launch for Ryan's memoir, Walk like a cow, will be held at Blarney Books, Port Fairy on Saturday, February 6 at 5pm.
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